Love & A Jane Austen Education

BlogHer Review

Is love a choice?

I've always thought so, and apparently so did Jane Austen. I didn't realize her books were so connected by this theme until I read A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz.

In this book, Deresiewicz goes through each of Austen's six major novels and talks about the characters and their relationships and personalities. He shows how Austen's philosophies and experiences are found throughout her books and characters and how reading her books ultimately helped him to fix some of his own character defects to become a more lovable and loving person.

Each character and story has its own life lesson to teach, and since no Book Club is complete without a Favorite Parts discussion, here are two of my favorite lessons:

Emma: Happiness is a matter of will and not circumstance.

I never really appreciated Miss Bates before. I viewed her as Emma did -- silly, ridiculous, and quite frankly, annoying.

But Deresiewicz showed me what Austen was really trying to show through Miss Bates, that people can be happy no matter their circumstances.

"Emma, who had it all, was forever discontented with the world around her... Instead it was Miss Bates -- scraping by, facing a lonely old age, dependent on everybody else's goodwill -- who was the happy one... She found everything around her so very interesting."

Sometimes being happy takes work, but it's possible and preferable to be happy in spite of difficult circumstances.

Sense and Sensibility: Love is a process and not an event.

This book is an example of Austen's rejection of Romanticism and the idea that "our emotions are a moral compass that can never steer us wrong. If something is pleasant, it must be proper. If it feels good, it is good."

Marianne learned the hard way while Elinor, steady and proper Elinor, had it right.

"Love at first sight is a contradiction in terms... Elinor's way of going about things is the right one: to see a great deal of a person, to study their sentiments, to hear their opinions... It is a person's character, not their body, with which we fall in love... You never know the moment that you fall in love, in Austen's vision; you only discover you already have."

It seems to me that the social conventions of the day made finding real love easier. For propriety's sake, physical love had to wait until emotional love was mutual and legal commitments were made. In modern times, physical "love" happens first and deeper attachments are an after thought. And people are unhappy as a result.

Love needs time and takes effort, and reason should ultimately overcome feeling.

Conclusion

I'm with Jane. Love is definitely a choice. If you need convincing, read A Jane Austen Education for yourself. If you like Austen, you'll love this book!

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